Those who know me personally, or follow my blog with a degree of religiosity know that I am not a fan of Andy Stanley. I do not support his ministry or recommend his work to Christians. What began as the bad ecclesiology of the seeker-sensitive mega-church movement has evolved into dangerous theological positions, many which have been very controversial of late.
Stanley recently found himself in hot water again; however, I was not among the outraged. Normally I am pushing my way to the front of the picket line, but this time I turned on the crowd.
Stanley published an article in Relevant magazine criticizing Christians who so passionately plead for the ten commandments to be made a monument in many public spaces, since Christians are not supposed to follow the Ten Commandments anyway. He claims that they do not apply to us anymore, passing away with the Old Covenant.
Stanley’s claims here are a natural outflow of his previous controversy where he expressed troubling views of the Old Testament and its applicability, relevance, and authority over New Testament Christians.
I do disagree with Stanley. I disagree vehemently with his view of the Old Testament, and I disagree hesitantly with his more narrow view of the Ten Commandments. The reason that I found this to be one of the least troubling things Stanley has said is because this is actually a respectable, conservative position within the theological stream of evangelical Protestantism. In fact, I grew up swimming in this part of the stream.
Second, I took more issue with the outrage because, if my intuitions prove true, many who criticize do so entirely hypocritically.
New Covenant Theology
If people would actually read Stanley’s article, they would see there is a logic to it. The reason for this is because New Covenant Theology is a respectable, conservative theological framework growing in America today, and not among seeker-sensitive megachurch pastors.
New Covenant theologians have been arguing academically for some time now about the inconsistency they see with maintaining the Ten Commandments as being applicable today, while rejecting the rest of the Mosaic Law as being “fulfilled.”
The point of this post is not to lay out New Covenant Theology (NCT) in all of its particulars, nor is it to share what I see are the strengths and weaknesses of NCT. I can provide good resources upon request, but the reason I bring all this up is to say that what Stanley said is not new, it can be defensible, and it’s really not that outrageous, especially in light of many of his other statements. I wonder if many of the Christians nationwide who expressed outrage with Stanley’s rejection of the abiding validity of the ten commandments first received by Moses would be able to articulate why those ten have remained, but most of the Law no longer rules Christian practice?
I know there are answers to this. I love listening to Covenant Theologians and New Covenant Theologians debate and discuss this. I am not saying there is not an answer to Stanley’s musing. I know many can give that answer, but given the theological famine across this country, I doubt most people could.
It needs to be qualified that Stanley is not a New Covenant Theologian. If he is, he has not expressed that, and he does not understand it well. I don’t want to lump everyone who maintains NCT into the same boat with Stanley’s neo-marcionism and seeker-sensitive ecclesiology. There is no evidence that Stanley truly understands NCT as a hermeneutical system, has been convinced of its merits, and now teaches it. More likely, while hiking through the woods of his seeker-sensitive proclivities, he stumbled upon an isolated NCT viewpoint which he dug up and realized would make for a great attraction to all of the unbelievers filling his church each week.
What bothered me most about all of this was that the national outrage was so wide, the odds that many people attacking Stanley even knowing the Ten Commandments by heart are slim to none. We don’t know what these things are, but golly Stanley better not take em down.
Along with being able to articulate a response to Stanley’s reasoning about keeping the Ten and rejecting most of the others, how many of the American Christians upset who apparently disagree with Stanley and maintain that the Ten Commandments apply to us, live as if the Ten Commandments actually apply to us?
Now I am not talking about being perfect and never coveting or lying. More specifically, how many of the outraged have pondered the consequences of the second commandment? Have they seen any movies with actor portraying Jesus lately? Do they have any paintings in their house with Jesus in them? What happened to that graven image thing?
What about the fourth commandment? How many of these Christians practice the Sabbath? Do they refrain from work? Do they dedicate the entire day to worship? Do they honor it on Saturday, or instead explain biblically why the Sabbath is now on Sunday?
Again, I know many can. But I am very confident in my sneaking suspicion that large swaths of Christians so angry with Stanley for taking down the Ten Commandments have no even tried to meaningfully apply them in the first place.
Let is also be known that Stanley was not advocating that we can murder, steal, commit adultery, have other gods, lie, etc. He was saying that those are still sins, but they are sins because Jesus said so, not because Moses said so.
The Roman Catholic Elephant in the Room
The rich irony in all of this was that I was first exposed to Stanley’s claims about the Ten Commandments was in a blog written by none other than Roman Catholic political commentator Matt Walsh.
Walsh is a brilliant thinker, and his social commentary is appropriately scathing. However, he is in over his head on this one, and all other religious commentary to which he embarks for that matter.
Taking a bible lesson from a devout Roman Catholic is a lot like taking a lesson on ethics from pro-abortion advocate.
Walsh criticizes Stanley for not thinking the Ten Commandments apply to Christians, all the while he bows down to statues of Mary. Catholicism still utilizes the crucifix! How a crucifix is not a blatant violation of the second commandment I will never know.
Assuming Walsh is among the majority of Catholics, holding the Material Sufficiency view of Scripture, then Walsh is criticizing Stanley’s understanding of the Bible, while simultaneously believing the bible teaches things like:
- The treasury of merit from which Catholics can have good works from Mary and the saints and Christ deposited into their account.
- Purgatory, an afterlife experience where people atone for the sins Christ did not atone for.
- The Eucharist, where the the bread and wine literally become the actual body and blood of Christ even though it does so invisibly.
- That a priest can forgive sins since he is “another Christ.”
- That Sacred Tradition is as infallible and authoritative as the Scriptures.
- Papal infallibility.
- That the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth.
- That the Mass is the actual, literal, sacrifice of Christ in a non-bloody presentation, forgiving some, but not all of your sins.
- Baptismal justification.
- Works justification.
- Venerating the Saints.
- Praying to Saints.
- Giving a lesser form of worship to Mary.
- Believing Mary is a co-mediatrix with Christ.
This is only listing a handful of examples, more could be given. According to Roman Catholics who hold to Material Sufficeincy, the Bible teaches, even if only in seedform, all the above doctrines.
Andy Stanley is one of the most unqualified bible teachers in the country, but Roman Catholic theology makes him look like Herman Bavinck.